Putin offers to help break nuclear deadlock at Kim Jong-un summit

Andrew Roth in Moscow and Justin McCurry


The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, have promised to forge stronger ties during their first summit together.

In a two-hour meeting in the Russian city of Vladivostok, Putin also offered to help break the deadlock over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

“We have just had quite a substantive discussion, one on one,” Putin said in remarks following the talks. “We were able to discuss both the history of our relations. We also spoke about the present day and prospects for developing bilateral ties. Of course, we discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula as well.”

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Kim, who arrived in Russia on Wednesday by armoured train, called the talks “very meaningful”.

The leaders did not immediately announce any agreements. But the friendly tone contrasted with that of the failed summit between Kim and the US president, Donald Trump, in February.

Trump and Kim’s second summit in Hanoi ended without agreement and differing explanations for their failure to make progress on denuclearising the Korean peninsula.

North Korea sees Russia as a potential ally in its negotiations with the US and as a potential source of support for its sanctions-battered economy.

Putin and Kim greeted each other warmly on Thursday, shaking hands before beginning two days of highly anticipated talks on the island campus of Russia’s Far Eastern University.

TV coverage showed Kim arriving in a limousine before being met by Putin, who smiled and gestured to him before they both walked inside.

Related: Donald Trump hails ‘great leader’ Kim Jong-un at Hanoi summit

Putin told Kim that Russia supported his efforts to normalise North Korea’s relations with the US, adding that he hoped this week’s talks would help clarify Russia’s potential role in reviving stalled negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

Kim earlier struck an upbeat tone and praised the Russian president when his train crossed the border at Khasan on Wednesday, saying: “I have heard a lot of good things about your country and wanted to visit it for a long time. Seven years have passed since I took charge of the country, but I did not have a chance to visit Russia until now.”

Kim was greeted at Vladivostok by a military orchestra, with white-gloved attendants running alongside his armoured train to wipe the dust from any surfaces that he might touch exiting the carriage.

Russia opposes the west’s sanctions-led approach but, like China, wants to see North Korea roll back its nuclear programme. Putin was expected to propose modest financial support, because Russia will not openly flout the economic sanctions and sees North Korea as a questionable investment.

They were also expected to discuss the fate of about 10,000 North Korean labourers working in Russia who are due to leave by the end of this year under sanctions.

Labour is one of North Korea’s key exports and sources of hard currency. Pyongyang has reportedly asked Russia to continue to employ its workers after the deadline. Kim, whose government has told the UN it is facing food shortages this year, could also seek a boost in aid from Moscow, which has provided $25m in food aid to North Korea in recent years, according to the Kremlin.

Russia’s trade with North Korea is minuscule at just $34m last year, mostly because of the international sanctions against Pyongyang.

Russia would like to gain broader access to North Korea’s mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang, for its part, covets Russia’s electricity supplies and wants investment to modernise its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.

Russian president Vladimir Putin in talks with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during their meeting in Vladivostok in 2002.

Russian president Vladimir Putin in talks with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during their meeting in Vladivostok in 2002. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Kim’s journey by rail echoed one made by his father, Kim Jong-il, who met Putin in Vladivostok in 2002 and once completed a 12,000-mile round-trip to Moscow on the same train.

Putin, meanwhile, travelled to North Korea just months into his presidency in 2000, becoming the first Russian leader to visit the state.

Kim Jong-il made his third and final trip to Russia in 2011, months before his death and his son’s rise to power.

Associated Press contributed to this report